Moterwriter.com caught up with author M C Raj and got him to talk a little about his latest novel The Crossbow Code. This is what transpired in the tête-à-tête with the author.
Moterwriter: How are you Mr. Raj, what’s new in your life?
M C Raj: My life is at a low ebb at the moment as I have been diagnosed with cancer. But I am improving well to bounce back with the same enthusiasm. However, my travels have been limited and give me a lot of time to dream. I cannot sit much and write. I regret that.
MW: You have a new book out called ‘The Crossbow Code’. What’s it about?
RAJ: The book is about what can happen in the contemporary world if some historical or mythical figure comes back as a person. Christian fundamentalists have been crying aloud that Jesus is coming soon. But he has not come in the last 2000 years. This book explores the possibilities for the world if indeed he comes now. It is for the reader to go through every page and enjoy it.
MW: Is there a particular genre you would classify it under?
RAJ: It’s a thriller. One may name it a historical thriller. But I like what you have said that it is an ideological thriller. I tried not to make it ideological. The reader has to judge.
MW: A lot of people use the term dystopia in relation to the future. My question to you is, has it already arrived. Is the present world an imperfect world?
RAJ: The world is cyclic. I mean the way people react to the world is the same again and again. I do not believe in the end of the world. The material world is eternal. And our illusions of the world are also eternal. This novel has nothing to do with eschatology, the end of times. I love this world for whatever it is. Simultaneously this love for the world also urges me to look critically at some of our assumptions of the world. I love people of all hue and cry and feel obliged to reflect with them critically on our assumptions. This process, I hope will lead to much learning. Am sure The Crossbow Code is a tiny tool in this critical learning process.
MW: Do you think your story will appeal more to the young?
RAJ: This novel can be as much repulsive as it is appealing and that transgresses all boundaries of age. On the whole the novel will appeal more to young readers than the older ones. But the older generation may still be curious to know why the younger one like what they like in this novel.
MW: Tell us about the character of Kris?
RAJ: He is funny in the sense that he takes every reality of life very seriously. The creation of this character is based on my understanding of the person of Jesus. I do not consider his as a god and this is one of the reasons why I bring him down as an earthly being with two Muslim wives. He is an ever-challenging young man as I see him in the New Testament. It is because of this challenging nature that he constantly lives in the throes of death inviting his enemies to kill him. He keeps coming into the world again and again as a peace-maker. Only a few manage to see him.
MW: What was the inspiration behind such a character?
RAJ: Ha, well! I am much interested in the personality of Jesus as a man born without knowing who his father is. I am much edified by the character of Jesus who goes among the trees to pray and not to the temple. I like the angry young man who stands in street corners and challenges the authorities. I like his audacity of calling them white washed sepulchers. I am edified by his love for his two girl friends in the New Testament. Such a person is locked up in the churches so that he may not challenge the authorities and rulers.
MW: Any reason why you chose notable personalities from history as characters in your book?
RAJ: Most notable personalities in history have an unknown side to their life or a side that is consciously camouflaged. This leads to deification of personalities. Once they are deified they cannot be followed. They are worthy of worshipping. We idealize them so much that we forget their real human nature, which we can all follow. Human beings have to develop human attitudes towards other human beings however great they are in history. We lose their contribution to humanity by deifying them and elevating them to an inhuman world. I hope I have done this in the novel without denigrating anyone.
MW: Were you apprehensive at any point while bringing upsuch provocative arguments in the book. Especially considering the prevailing volatile environment, where any voice of dissent or one that goes against the majority is cut to size?
RAJ: Yes. Even now I am apprehensive that some fundamentalist Christians may raise a flag of revolt if they happen to read the novel to the end. Even normal Christians may find it hard to accept Jesus marrying two Muslim girls. Gandhians will object to a lot of things that are said in the novel. Dalits may attack me for having made Ambedkar regret his decision to convert to Buddhism. I was apprehensive. But as a writer I am always ready to pay any price for the freedom with which I write my books.
MW: Favorite passage or section from the novel?
RAJ: “In the last few days, I am seeing my Kris in a completely different castle. I must confess that I had this occasional doubt coming to me like a flash in the pan that there is something special about you that is not associated with normal human beings. I used to dismiss such thoughts as my illusions.” Fatima’s serious forays into the personality of Kris began to taunt him now. But he was as cool as the ice of Antarctic Ocean.
Without the slightest sign of disturbance he asked Fatima. “What is it that made such an occurrence possible for you?”
“This! Exactly this, Kris! Here I am your wife raising so many questions about you and even challenging your very personal belief in god. You show no sign of even the slightest possible disturbance or exuberance. Is this not enough to speak volumes about your hidden nature? Many personalities become phenomenon after their death but you look like an unprecedented phenomenon to me even while you live. At times, I thought that it is because I love you so much that you have become a living phenomenon to me but from the last few days there is that something that makes you a very enigmatic phenomenon. It is this mystery surrounding you that makes life difficult for me. I do not want to live with a mystery. I want my husband to be an open book, absolutely naked and empty in my sight, an ocean on which I can dip and drown myself again and again without the slightest inhibition. Tell me, Kris. Who are you? What is the mystery about you?” Fatima was lambasting her way into the heart of Kris. Rhea was utterly confused. She was like an earthworm suddenly pulled out of the earth and exposed to the sun.
“I am an ordinary human being, Fatima. I am a common man raised from the burning ashes. I like to be only an ordinary being. There is no mystery around me. I do not want you to believe that there is something special about your husband.” Kris was as unmoved as the granite blocks that used to be unloaded from the quarries.
“The worst thing that can happen to me is that I have to try hard not to get frightened of you, my beloved Kris. I am afraid that I am moving towards it. The way you speak and look at the world has begun to instill a feeling in me that you are an extraordinary human being. I want to say that you come across to me as a sort of super human being. But I am afraid that it will be an insult on you to describe you as superhuman. I am beginning to feel that you are someone very extraordinary. If my fear is proved right, I am afraid I may lose you for good. “Oh Mother Earth, please do not separate my beloved from me. I cannot think of my existence without him. Keep him only as a normal human being,” Fatima started crying aloud tears flowing from her eyes. Both Kris and Rhea did not expect this to happen at that part of the night. They sat up to console her and calm her down.
“Hey, you little bundle of love. You have begun to speak like a big woman. It is nice to have you as our little wonder. I am not extraordinary as you suspect, Fatima, my darling love. I am just an ordinary man discovered from the earth and dust as you did in that village. If you had not discovered me I do not know what would have happened to me. Therefore, do not nurture any imagination of the extraordinary in me,” Kris tried to put her to rest.
“Please do not try to mollify me. I have very strong feeling waves in my body and I like to follow them wherever they lead me. I do not bother about the consequences. But I must be true to myself. Tell me, Kris, who are you? The way things happen to you and the way you face them indicate that you cannot be an ordinary human being. You definitely have some extra edge over the other ordinary human. Come on, Kris, please tell me who are you?” Fatima kept coming back to the same issue again and again to the bewilderment of Kris and Rhea. But they accepted her genuine quest for truth.
“I say to you, my darling. I am Kris, an ordinary human being. You know how ordinary I was when you discovered me. Do you expect me to be more ordinary than that?” Kris was helpless in his response.
“Hey, Fatima, why are you so adamant? Why don’t you let him alone? You are raking up something that does not exist and Kris feels helpless. Just leave it,” Rhea tried to go to the rescue of Kris. The peacemaker!
“Rhea, just put your hand on your heart and tell me that you did not have the same feelings that I had. Did you never ask yourself the question what this man could be? Let him go through the pain and also understand how difficult it is for us to live in such foggy existence. I want my horizon to be clear. I want to have my full life with my Kris,” She reproved Fatima and with the same speed turned to Kris and remarked,
“Yes, my beloved husband. I saw how ordinary you were when I met you for the first time. But now I realize that you have made yourself worse than the ordinary and that is what is raising my eyebrows. When you go below the ordinary then you are an extraordinary being from below. Does someone become extraordinary only when one goes up in the ladder? It is not only those who perform above normal human beings that are extraordinary. It requires extraordinary capacity to go below a certain level of existence. In fact, it is much more difficult to go below the normal level of existence than to achieve excellence above normal human beings. It needs exceptional courage. That is why I am asking you again and again, who are you? Tell me Kris, who are you? Please Kris tell me…”
She could not contain herself anymore. She grabbed him in her two hands and shook him almost violently. Rhea shouted, “Fatima, stop this. Stop Fatima, you will kill him. It is not good for his health. Stop it, Fatima. The indigenous people have already tossed him in the air like a little child this morning. I wondered if he would come back alive from their loving clutches. His speech this morning was mesmerizing them, to say the least, and you saw how the young men and women lifted him and made a procession around that stone stage. They do not know the delicate situation of his health. Now, you too do not become a thorn in his flesh.”
Seeing that Rhea joined Kris instead of supporting her demand, Fatima opened the door of the room and slammed it in the same speed. Rhea tried to pull her back into the room but Fatima was too strong for her. She pushed Rhea back into the room and whizzed past her. Rhea was too frightened of the reaction of this motherless child. She remembered similar behavior of Fatima in her childhood and early girlhood days. Extreme patience on the part of Rasheed and on her part helped Fatima to overcome much of her compulsive behavior. Rhea was petrified to see glimpses of that old compulsion coming back. In sheer agony, she opened the door once again and was shocked at what she saw.
Kris was unswerving in the room. Rhea came back perspiring and panting. “An old lady was waiting for Fatima as if she anticipated her storming out. I don’t know who she is and don’t know what she will do to my Fatima. At this part of the night she is taken away. Kris, do you think you can go with me, walk slowly with me and let us see where she is gone. Please come, Kris,” She said without being asked what happened.
“Don’t worry, Rhea. There is an elderly lady in the next room. I have seen her. Where will Fatima go at the thick of darkness? She will come back,” He tried to calm down Rhea.
“Ohhh…so, this is your problem. You want to know the real identity of your husband! Don’t worry, my child. If he has another identity, different from the one that you have seen in him, we shall find out. Be calm! Sit calmly in front of me. I am a Shaman from the Native American community. We shall find out. Don’t worry,” Saying this Minnale took a pot of water and a few sticks at the centre of her room, on the floor.
She made Fatima to sit in front of it. There were a few containers that had mud, which she put around the water. She took some flower petals and scattered them over the mud and water. Then, she lit fire to a few pieces of charcoal that she had kept in a mud pot. As she put some incense into it, the room was filled with aromatic smoke. She opened her cupboard and brought out a small drum and a stick. Minnale turned her back to Fatima and stood quiet for some time and repeated this movement eight times, blowing each time in the space. Fatima understood that Minnale was in deep communication with some powers in the outer world. Minnale came back and prostrated herself on the floor keeping her ears to the ground. She turned her head and kept the other ear to the floor and lay still for a few minutes.
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” She uttered thrice without opening her eyes. Her face was glowing with new life and as Fatima looked at her glimmering face, Minnale looked as if she had become twenty years younger. Fatima thought that she was a Christian indigenous woman and waited for her to speak up.
“Go back, my daughter. Go in peace. You have nothing to worry. It is Jesus. Your husband is Jesus. He has come back to visit the world. He keeps coming back again and again. This is one of his coming back,” She said in absolute calm.
“Jesus! Is he the Jesus who lived thousands of years ago? I can’t believe that my husband is Jesus. Are you a Christian Shaman?” Fatima could not withhold her curiosity even at that critical moment.
“A Shaman is neither a Christian, nor a Muslim, nor a Buddhist, nor a Hindu, nor this nor that. A Shaman is only a Shaman. We communicate with Mother Earth, with our ancestors and with cosmic powers. There is no god outside the cosmos,” She said with a broad smile.
MW:Who all have most influenced you as a writer?
RAJ: I am generally a self-made person. I have to think hard to identify those who influenced me as a writer. I can only mention two names at the moment: One is Michel Foucault and the other is Thomas Merton.
MW: What was the level of research you had to undertake for this novel?
RAJ: I made a trip to Rome in order to write this novel. I visited Germany several times and went to all the places that find a place in the novel. I visited Porto Alegre in Brazil and stayed near the first slave market in the world. I have visited Pabna District in the present Bangladesh that started the Indigo revolution. Besides visiting places I have also done extensive research on Ambedkar and Gandhi. I am a Marxist by my ideological leaning. It needed many years of reading and reflection.
MW: According to you is there a quick-fix solution or even a long term solution to India’s obsession with caste and the problems it propagates in the society?
RAJ: Caste cannot be annihilated. It is going to be a wild goose chase. We can only dream of eradicating untouchability practices in the long run. India is a hopeless country because of its caste system. I am not much amused by those who eulogize India. Yes, one can always find some good things in a country. But India has a long way to go to be civilized.
MW: How do you unwind? Is there a favorite to-do thing in your life?
RAJ: I listen to Music. I also sit with village people and gossip. I spend much of my time before the computer. I travel a lot though now it is much restricted because of my illness.
MW: What’s next for you in terms of your writing?
RAJ: I already have submitted the manuscript of my next novel that is a science fiction. It is based on Optogenetics, a science that developed only from 2005. The framework for my next to next novel is Ramayana. I have started writing it. It is based more on Seetha and less on Rama.
MW: And lastly, thank you for parting with your valuable time M C Rajand all the very best for your book.
RAJ: Thank you too for the review, Press Release and this interview.
Connect with him-http://mcrajauthor.com/